AQP in Action within the Entire Organization
We often think the words “process” and “nimble” are mutually exclusive—especially when we think of launching a product in the precision metal stamping (or any manufacturing or production) environment. What comes to mind when we hear that something is in “process” involves a slow, encumbered, multi-layered mire of circumstance. Nimble, on the other hand, denotes quickness and agility that offers responsive, definitive solutions. What if you could have both?
What if, in fact, with one [process] you enable and set the stage for the other [nimble]? A common business practice is the lean approach, which (in very lean terms) implements a proactive problem-solving model that promotes an unencumbered workflow.
What’s AQP Got to Do with It?
There is another process used in industries like precision metal stamping that applies specifically to the product launch: advanced quality planning, or AQP. It was originally used in the automotive industry to support QS-9000 activities. It is now used throughout many industries to help ensure a congruent process, that when implemented successfully, keeps the production cycle working smoothly and nimbly, at-the-ready to handle any contingencies that may pop up. And its efficacy extends far beyond the initial design and launch of a product.
The intention of AQP is to establish a system, from the very beginning of the manufacturing relationship, that ensures that customer requirements are met (and exceeded) throughout the tenure of the customer/manufacturer partnership for any given tool or metal stamping part. AQP provides a framework of communication among all stakeholders within the manufacturing company, and the process rolls out in five phases. Before we discuss the phases, there are some distinct benefits to highlight when following AQP.
Advanced Quality Planning Benefits
The benefits are always two-fold—both to the customer and the manufacturer. They include:
- Saving time and money—through the efficient use of time and resources
- Clear communication—to set expectations and mitigate misunderstandings and risk
- Continuous improvement model—that incorporates assessment, feedback, and nimble corrective action when needed
- Increase in overall customer satisfaction—by avoiding or reducing disruptions (and their subsequent containment contingencies)
- Superior quality—in designs and products, process flow and controls
The phases of quality planning follow a logical design and production chronology that guides your stamping manufacturing partner through the entire cycle. As you see from the benefits above, being able to act and react nimbly throughout this process is only one of the positive outcomes of adhering to AQP; it can also be realized throughout the entire production and delivery cycle.
iSixSigma explains the phases in the following manner:
Phase 1: Program planning and definition—this phase determines the customer needs, requirements, and expectations and how to define and set the inputs and outputs
Phase 2: Product design and development—review the inputs and execute the outputs, which include FMEA, PFMA, design verification, design reviews, material and engineering specifications
Phase 3: Process design and development
Phase 4: Product and process validation
Phase 5: Launch, feedback, assessment, and corrective action
5 Steps of Implementation
Advanced quality planning proceeds in five steps:
- Identification of training needs
- Establishment of a cross-functional team that analyzes the product fulfillment cycle
- Identification of advanced quality planning activities
- Identification of additional opportunities for advanced quality planning activities
- Development of a plan for these new activities
4 Core Tools
iSixSigma provides some examples of AQP activities:
- Feasibility reviews
- Process flow diagrams
- Failure mode and effects analysis
- Control plans—which have three phases: prototype, pre-launch, product control plans
Process = Nimble
Clearly that’s a whole lot of process that goes into the smooth delivery of a superior quality metal stamping part. Adept companies don’t plunder through the AQP process checking items off a list just to say they did. Successful manufacturers instill this process into the fabric of how business is done. Companies that approach business and partnerships with AQP strategies firmly engrained into their culture can—and do—answer the needs of their customers completely, with congruity, and nimbly. Having AQP firmly established is particularly helpful when customers present you with challenging product requests.
We had a recent circumstance with a long-standing customer that put our AQP process to the test. We think it’s worth sharing this experience to show how well-implemented AQP strategies keep a precision metal stamping manufacturer prepared—and a customer in business, literally.
AQP in Action
We have made over 60 tools for a loyal customer that has been with us since the 1960s. We are one of the two stamping suppliers they have counted on for many years—until the other one closed operations abruptly, leaving them in the lurch with approximately 20 tooled parts and raw materials.
Our customer—still in the middle of production and delivery to their customers—needed immediate remediation of their situation. This is how that translated for Larson:
- We received an immediate request to take on existing tools and live production
- Production ranged from 2,000 parts to 60,000 parts a year, with some immediate production requirements
- Tools were in “less than stellar” condition—and quantities arrived at an inconsistent rate
- We were also asked to use existing/remaining raw material, which required us to work through contingencies for material allotment and procurement
- Tools were both progressive and single station
Larson utilized the AQP team approach and incorporated this start-up into our process. As with any new project, it requires that the heads of each department meet weekly to discuss the status of all new work; this includes sales, customer service, engineering, manufacturing, and quality personnel. This team approach ensures that all facets of a customer’s work is evaluated and tracked through its integration into our facility—and through every phase of process design and development.
For this situation, there were many levels of this project that needed triaging. Diagnostics included figuring out which “inherited” tools could run as is, which ones needed repair, and which ones needed all-out replacing. Either way, because their other supplier shut down while they had live orders, our customer’s production line needed to keep running. We took on this responsibility (while also assuming their raw material inventory, also needing purging).
While AQP allows Larson to respond and adapt with agility, Larson has an added ability to be flexible. Our resources—people and machinery—enable us to increase capacity by adding personnel and working weekends.
This was two years ago, and portions of this project remain “current.” Because there are so many tools involved and some are only run on the production line every few years, it is still an ongoing process—but one we are well-prepared to execute.
Having an AQP process in place, where all our departments discuss the operational impact and share full disclosure and accountability, we are able to set and meet expectations consistently, internally and externally. We do use checklists, and they are an important tool when managing converging phases of any project; they help us fully integrate each department’s progress into the greater whole.
This customer, initially a stamping customer, now depends exclusively on Larson for extensive tool and stamping needs. Taking on older and/or existing tools can be a challenging and expensive endeavor, but having the right process in place makes it attainable on all levels.
When a manufacturer is flexible and nimble, it can do so in a scalable manner and can apply those characteristics to all projects, passing those advantages on to its customers. You might be interested in reading about another customer project that benefitted from our AQP approach to problem solving. Download this Deep Draw Stamping case study to see how.